What do you have for lunch if sandwiches are off the menu?

I can’t think of the last time I had a sandwich for lunch but apparently the humble sandwich is still the nation’s favourite lunch of choice. Number one is the cheese sandwich, followed by ham and then chicken.

According to the Telegraph “sandwiches – Britain’s greatest edible export – are a kind of anti-food. It’s a way of eating that frees us from forks, dinner tables and meal times. A solitary, cling-wrapped cheese sandwich is the opposite of a sociable meal around a big table.”

How sad is that?!

They say that the average time taken to eat lunch – usually in front of the computer – is roughly 15 minutes, and researchers also discovered that 32% of us tuck into the same lunch each day…the equivalent of 250 cheese sarnies a year. (I love that my spell check just tried to change sarnies into sardines!!!)

I understand that a sandwich is horribly efficient…it only required one hand to eat it, it only takes moments to prepare, and you don’t need any fancy or special equipment to enjoy it. But….

What happens when you’re one of those people who has been happily munching on sandwiches lunch time after lunch time, year after year and then you discover you have coeliac disease or a gluten intolerance? Suddenly regular bread is no longer on the menu.

Don’t get me wrong, of course you could just swap your regular bread for one of the many gluten free loaves out there and continue making your cheese and ham sandwiches till kingdom come. But how about you try something different? How about you go rogue and don’t eat a sandwich for lunch today? Come on, be brave, here are a few gorgeous, tasty, filling and easy to prepare lunch options that you could get creative with – and they come in the form of (don’t cry) salad.

I know what you’re thinking…..salad is boring. Salad doesn’t fill you up. Salad is just the same old lettuce, cucumber and tomatoes.

But it doesn’t have to be boring. Not if you do it properly. Not if you really throw everything you’ve got at it, everything you’ve got in the fridge and everything you’ve had lurking at the back of your kitchen cupboards for months. Then, and only then, you can make a proper salad. A salad of champions. And you won’t even be looking for the bread I can promise you!

So here goes. My first offering comes in the form of this picture perfect mackerel and avocado salad. I know I went a bit mad making it look so gorgeous but you eat with your eyes right? And besides, it photographs so much better doesn’t it?!

So I’ll let you into a secret now….I buy (don’t be shocked) ready cooked mackerel fillets from the supermarket. Gasp. But I tell you what, whether you buy the salt & pepper ones, or the chilli spiced ones, or the hot smoked ones and whether it’s mackerel or salmon or kippers or whatever takes your fancy at the moment that you’re doing your shopping, just pop one into your trolley and you’ll thank me for it. It’s such an easy go-to treat to have in the fridge and so often makes the basis of one of my lunchtime salads.

Mackerel & Avocado Salad with a Soy Sesame & Honey dressing

Here I used salt & pepper crusted mackerel fillets which I flaked with some sliced up avocado pieces, a couple of large ripe juice tomatoes, and a fancy-pants avocado rose which I popped in the middle (google how to make it, it’s actually really easy and looks amazing!). All served on a bed of mixed rocket and spinach with a dressing made from 1tbsp rapeseed oil, 1tbsp soy sauce, 1tsp sesame oil, 1tsp honey mixed together with 1tbsp of sesame seeds. Drizzle over liberally and enjoy!

The next one has a bit more bulk to it and instead of the Asian dressing used above, this one is all wrapped together in a creamy pesto cashew based cream cheese dressing which (again) I bought it. It’s an amazing new product called Casheese that comes in 4 different flavours including paprika, french herb, chive and the one I used for this salad, pesto. It’s a cream cheese substitute for vegans or for those who just fancy trying something a bit different, made from cashew nuts. Clever right?! It only comes in tiny pots so you can’t go wrong and it’s incredibly versatile. You can obviously spread it on straight onto crackers, toast and bagels etc but it also makes a lovely pasta sauce if you emulsify it with a little pasta cooking liquid, or like I have done here, as a dressing.

Use 2tbsp of casheese and loosen it with 1 tsp of rapeseed oil and 1tsp of lemon juice to make your dressing.

Salmon & Avocado Pasta Salad with a Pesto Casheese dressing

I made this salad when I had a friend over and it was such a lovely sharing dish, full of healthy protein and tangy bites of olive to offset the creamy avocado. First I steamed a large salmon fillet and gently pulled it apart. At the same time I cooked some gluten free pasta till it was al dente. I dressed the pasta whilst it was still warm with the casheese dressing. Once cooled down I threw the pasta, cherry tomatoes, an avocado, cucumber and a handful of black olives into a big bowl and tossed it all together so it was all covered in the creamy dressing. I based the serving bowl with romaine lettuce, piled on the pasta mixture, topped with the flaked salmon and then scattered over sunflower, pumpkin and linseeds.

Perfect after your morning at the gym to replenish your proteins and give you a carb hit to fill you up, I really recommend this one. The next one was literally thrown together from things I had lurking in the back of my kitchen cupboards. Tins. Hundreds of them! So I rescued a sad looking tin of tuna and an even sadder tin of butter beans to create this next protein packed refuel lunchtime treat. It couldn’t possibly take any longer to make than a sandwich would, so you really have no excuses for this one!

Tuna, Butter Bean & Crunchy Seed Salad

Start with a base of spinach leaves, add chopped red pepper, cherry tomatoes, cucumber and avocado. Fork over a tin of tuna followed by half a tin of butter beans. Sprinkle over pine nuts and sunflower seeds and then drizzle liberally with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice and balsamic vinegar.

When you’re sick of greens and looking for something a bit more substantial then I really recommend making a big pot of this satisfying quinoa salad. I know it doesn’t look the prettiest but it is really good to eat. I made this one hot as an accompaniment to some grilled chicken for dinner one evening and then had it as my lunchtime salad the next day so it kills two birds with one stone! Eating leftovers is never a bad thing right?!

Tomato & Olive Quinoa Salad with Peas & Basil

Quinoa cooks just like rice, well just like how I cook rice anyway (I know everyone has a different rice cooking method don’t they?!), so I double the volume of water to quinoa, bring it to the boil and then let it simmer gently until all the water has been absorbed. Don’t stir it otherwise it will be sticky. Leave it in the pan with the heat off and the lid on to allow it to finish doing it’s thing before doing anything with it.

To make the hot version of this dish I sautéed onion, red pepper and cherry tomatoes for a few minutes until softened, added chopped black olives and cooked peas before stirring through the cooked quinoa and topped with lots of fresh basil. To make it straight into a cold salad just make sure your quinoa has had time to cool down and simply add the red peppers, tomatoes, olives and peas to it without any cooking. Sprinkle generously with fresh basil and a little extra virgin olive oil.

And my final offering for your lunchtime pleasure is this little beauty:

Superfood Salad with Chicken, Courgette, Corn & Rocket

Again I have based this salad on cold cooked quinoa. It’s so versatile that I always think of as being the gluten free version of couscous (which is made from wheat) but quinoa is actually a seed and comes from a plant in South America which looks a bit like lavender. You can add so much flavour to it with spices, chilli, moroccan flavours or here it has been stirred through with an avocado pesto dressing.

So cook the quinoa as above and allow to cook. Make the dressing using a ripe avocado blitzed with a large handful of basil leaves, 1tbsp pine nuts, 1tsp lemon juice and plenty of salt & pepper (no oil should be needed as the avocado makes the dressing creamy enough).  Stir through your quinoa. Here I have added a mix of cooked chicken, tinned sweetcorn, a few sun dried tomatoes and some cherry tomatoes. This makes the base of your salad bowl. Now top with spiralized courgette ribbons (or just use a potato peeler), rocket, pine nuts and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  Yum. Enough said.

So lovely people….I hope I have given you enough inspiration to jazz up your lunches with any of these protein packed, flavour full, super satisfying salad bowls. Share them with a friend, enjoy them after your morning workout, made double portions so you can have some tomorrow. However you eat it enjoy it (I’m pretty sure it will be better than a boring old cheese sandwich at any rate!!) Ax

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